The theater was dark and nearly empty when my wife and I sat down to see the movie.
“I had a farm in Africa …” began Meryl Streep in the voiceover.
She had me hooked right there.
That ended up being the high point of the movie, in my mind. Still, she had captured my attention.
As the Jazz await Wednesday’s season-opener against Detroit, coach Quin Snyder has me captivated just as Streep did 30 years ago. He took a lot more than six words to do it, but he deserves an Oscar, or maybe a Freedom of Information Award. It made me a Snyder believer, if not exactly a Jazz believer, as he spoke about the Oklahoma City Thunder meaningfully addressing a preseason game.
As skillfully as he has set things up for this season, I might not even go looking for popcorn.
There are only a few times during an NBA season when fans hear the unvarnished truth. The rest is cotton candy. Players and coaches offer little substance, droning on about second-chance shots and turnovers and tempo. I would once like to hear Gordon Hayward say what he’s really thinking.
But when Snyder was asked last Tuesday if he’d like to see Rudy Gobert get going before the season began, he delivered this assessment — something that was obviously on his mind: “Yeah, look, the thing about our team is we’ve got some good players. We’ve got an opportunity to be a good team. It’s not like anybody or our team has done anything.”
Shades of Jerry Sloan.
“You’re looking at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and guys that have a level that no one — we haven’t touched that,” Snyder said. “So for us it’s, hey, look at what that is and what those guys are doing and how hard they practice. You see them before the game? How hard they went? Those are hungry guys that are All-Stars.”
Snyder also gave his most honest assessment since being hired.
“We were a good team (last year) for about two months and we were a good team when other teams sometimes were resting a player. The competition that we played was always formidable in the league, but we weren’t playing teams that were playing for the playoffs very often.
“I’m not dampening any enthusiasm, but I am being realistic about who our group is — and that’s what our group needs. We need to be realistic about the level that’s out there and if we want to reach it, it’s a hard road.”
I thought it was a good thing when the Jazz began their reconstruction project. But I’m not convinced they will do much better than the low end of the playoffs as long as Hayward is the team’s best player. Derrick Favors is talented, but not a true star. Rudy Gobert has had one emerging season. Dante Exum is years away.
But as of last Tuesday, I’m sold on Snyder. For most of the time he’s been here, I’ve viewed him as a smart man who also seems pretty nice. I could see his effort was making the Jazz better. But he rarely shed much light on where his team stood.
However, when he pointed out last week that the Jazz’s second-half surge last year wasn’t exactly earth shattering, he showed more honest insight than his players do in a season. Will this year be an Oscar-winning “Out of Africa” or a “Bio-Dome” bust?
Sounds like it’s up to them.
The Jazz have a dangerous schedule, with four of their first five and nine of 12 on the road. Their November slate includes Atlanta, Memphis, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, the Clippers and Golden State — all likely losses.
It will probably be a slow start.
But I’m loving Snyder’s attitude. Though he softened his remarks after Thursday’s exhibition win over Denver, saying he liked the effort much better, his point had been made: He’s as tired of selling the distant future as fans are hearing about it.
I can’t imagine a better way to approach the season than having the coach give his team a swift kick in the pants.
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